Problems with using a US NTSC Betamax VCR/recorder in Europe (Norway) - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 07-28-2013, 12:16 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi. I'm new to the forum although I have followed some threads here in the past, and had some questions answered based on other peoples experiences. Today I was searching the internet for a solution to a problem I have had for years, and a thread came up with someone asking about 50/60 Hz relating to VCRs from the US. So I decided to sign up to the forum and post my problem here. I hope somone here can help shed some light on this.

Here goes.

I live in Norway, and the power system here is 230v 50Hz ('normal' european power?). Only thing I have learned that might be slightly different from other countries, is that we don't have polarized plugs/sockets (is that right?), and there is no difference between the wires, there is no live and neutral wire, the current is the same in both, and when measuring between one of the wires and earth, you get 115v on each. I'm not an electrician, but I'm trying to understand this and I have a couple of friends who know a lot about this. Anyway, I'm not sure if any of this has anything to do with my problem.

I have an extensive collection of US (NTSC) Betamax tapes and VCRs. Long story short, I've always loved Beta, and when ebay came along many years ago, suddenly I could buy tapes and recorders from the US to compliment my collection of European (PAL) Beta stuff.

I also have loads of NTSC VHS tapes and VCR's, all functioning perfectly, with voltage transformers naturally.

But for some reason things have not been so easy with the Betas. In every tape and on every player I use, and regardless of what type of display I use, there is some kind of interference in the picture. I could best describe it as a sort of herringbone pattern, which is more or less visible in the same areas of the picture, depending on how strong the recording on the particular tape is. I feel the tracking range is very narrow, there seems to be only a minute area where the picture comes close to perfect, but it is never really free of the herringbone pattern in certain areas. The areas in question are mainly in the top right quadrant, and bottom left quadrant of the picture. This never changes. Same place regardless of tape/player/display. I know a little bit about helical scanning technology, and understand that one video head does the top half of the picture, and the other head does the bottom half. So it seems to me that the video heads are not getting the job done, since there is interference on both picture halves..

So I got to thinking, could it be the 50/60 Hz thing? No that can't be it, because some of the players actually say 120v 50/60 Hz, while others say only 50 Hz, but the result is the same. Could it be they are not getting enough voltage? The transformers I'm using all say 115v, could the 5v make a difference? All my NTSC VHS players work fine, so do laserdiscs, etc, never seen any interference there, picture is crystal clear. And is nothing to do with wear and tear, I have Beta recorders that are practically brand new, and tapes that have just been taken out of the shrink wrap. The problem is there in some degree all the time. I have lived in different locations and tried these tapes and players over a course of almost 15 years now, same problem the whole time.

But, and this is the strange part; I recently found out that the problem is there only on tapes recorded in the normal BII speed. I just happened to have an old recording made using the slower BIII speed, and it plays perfectly, even if it's not the player it was originally recorded on.. And the tracking range is excellent, I can turn the tracking wheel to the end both ways, and there is not even a hint of interference or even dropouts.. And considering the BIII speed is the equivalent of VHS LP/EP, it really makes no sence that the picture is better than in the faster 'normal' BII speed..

So now I'm really puzzled. Could there be something about the mains power system in this country that interferes with the whole scanning process in Beta BII speed? Some frequency carrier, or switching system or something in BII that doesn't quite work or gets interference when powered from a step down transformer? After all the mains power supply and my step down transformers are the only variables here, so I have no other ideas. Any thoughts? I've tried looking for answers to this on the internet for years, but never ever seen anyone describe this problem before.

Naturally I would have understood if there was a problem with a specific player, or tape, but I have tried at least 7 different Beta recorders, hundreds of tapes, probably close to 10 different displays (CRT TVs, projectors, Plasmas, all multi system compatible), and I have had this equipment hooked up in at least 4 different locations over a period of almost 15 years. No difference.

Looking forward to any help or suggestions I can get smile.gif

I could of course try to post a couple of pictures of the problem if that is of any help?
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post #2 of 9 Old 07-28-2013, 02:02 PM
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This is an interesting and *possibly* related article that describes "ground loop" and mentions dual conductors, herringbone interference patterns, etc.

 

Not sure, but maybe you can search for ground loop isolators in your country and try one?

 

Maybe an expert on this subject will chime in here???



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post #3 of 9 Old 07-29-2013, 01:51 PM
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Originally Posted by jehomme View Post

I live in Norway, and the power system here is 230v 50Hz ('normal' european power?). Only thing I have learned that might be slightly different from other countries, is that we don't have polarized plugs/sockets (is that right?), and there is no difference between the wires, there is no live and neutral wire, the current is the same in both, and when measuring between one of the wires and earth, you get 115v on each. I'm not an electrician, but I'm trying to understand this and I have a couple of friends who know a lot about this. Anyway, I'm not sure if any of this has anything to do with my problem.
In N. America(at least the US and Canada) we use 120v 60hz between hot and neutral for all regular devices. For high powered devices(in the home) we use 240v which is just 2 120v hots out of phase(no neutral) and the 240v is what you get when you measure between the hots. It sounds like you may have similar? in which case why don't you just use one of the hots and neutral(or ground if you don't have a neutral) and bypass the voltage transformer...
We call our power 120v/240v but it can be anywhere from ~110v-122v, I believe they may use lesser than 110v in areas like Japan??
AFA your herringbone pattern problem, I'm not too sure on that, since you don't get it on BIII tapes it sounds like it may be a video head problem? Do your Beta decks use a different set of heads for BII and BIII? My VHS players do but I'm not sure about Beta decks. When I converted my Beta tapes to DVD I had pretty good results with my BII tapes but the few I used BIII for I had tracking problems due to a different deck used to play them back then the one I used to record the tapes.
Maybe someone else will have a better idea where the herringbone pattern is coming from...
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post #4 of 9 Old 07-29-2013, 02:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi. thanks for the suggestions regarding the power, I haven't thought about it that way before, do you mean I could just rewire a plug to use one hot lead and ground, and that would be able to power up my unit? I'll have to try it out on something unimportant first and see if it works smile.gif Not sure how this works, but I have found out that they refer to the type of mains system we use as a 230V IT system, whatever that means.

Yes I do believe there are separate heads for BII and BIII, but not entirely sure. Will have to check that out. One thing is certain though, if it is a video head problem, I find it strange that it's the same on all my recorders, only varying slightly in severity depending on what tape is used. Some are really bad, others I can just barely find a 'sweet spot' when I adjust the tracking. And I do have a couple of recorders that have seen almost no use, so there is very little head wear to speak of, so that can't be it. If it is a head problem, I'm thinking it must be some speed/frequency/switching issue that occurs only in BII and not in BIII. Like I mentioned in my post, I can play BIII recordings absolutely flawless, turning the tracking control to each extreme almost doesn't degrade the picture at all.

I appreciate all the suggestions, please keep them coming if anybody has anything to offer smile.gif
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post #5 of 9 Old 07-29-2013, 02:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jehomme View Post

Hi. thanks for the suggestions regarding the power, I haven't thought about it that way before, do you mean I could just rewire a plug to use one hot lead and ground, and that would be able to power up my unit? I'll have to try it out on something unimportant first and see if it works smile.gif Not sure how this works, but I have found out that they refer to the type of mains system we use as a 230V IT system, whatever that means.

I appreciate all the suggestions, please keep them coming if anybody has anything to offer smile.gif
I'm not sure what IT means but if using ground for a neutral you want to make sure the ground wire is the same gauge as the hot and make sure the ground actually goes to ground(with a grounding rod) or it returns to your mains.
Again in the US our neutral and ground wire both return to the mains box and are tied to that metal box. A neutral wire(along with the two hots) come from the power company, the box is also tied to a grounding rod or copper pipes.
Larger commercial buildings have whats called 480v, 3 hots that are out of phase, 277V between any one and ground. In this system the building needs to have large transformers that convert the 480v to 120v for receptacles, in that type of building most lighting is 277v.
Good luck on finding your problem, PS there must be some reason Europeans use transformers to convert from 220v to 120v, I don't think it can be as easy as using one of your hots and ground, check thoroughly before trying anything smile.gif
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post #6 of 9 Old 07-29-2013, 04:28 PM
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Originally Posted by jehomme View Post

But for some reason things have not been so easy with the Betas. In every tape and on every player I use, and regardless of what type of display I use, there is some kind of interference in the picture. I could best describe it as a sort of herringbone pattern, which is more or less visible in the same areas of the picture, depending on how strong the recording on the particular tape is. [...] But, and this is the strange part; I recently found out that the problem is there only on tapes recorded in the normal BII speed. I just happened to have an old recording made using the slower BIII speed, and it plays perfectly, even if it's not the player it was originally recorded on.

This was a common issue with NTSC Betamax VCRs used in North America. It would appear regardless of the VCR mfr: I have seen this "herringbone patch" using Beta machines made by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo as well as Sony. As you have noted, the problem is obvious at the BII speed but invisible at BIII. The "herringbone patch" became less noticeable with BII recordings made on newer Betamax models released by Sony in the late 1980s, but older BII tapes made on previous Beta decks will still show a "herringbone patch" even when played on newer Sony models.

There is no realistic or practical way to completely eliminate the "BII herringbone patch" from the recorded tape. The best one can do is what you've already discovered, jehomme: adjust the tracking control very carefully until the patch is minimized and somewhat blended into the underlying video. This is easier on the pre-SuperBeta models with large wide-range tracking thumbwheels, like the Sony SL-HF500. Newer post-SuperBeta models like the Sony SL-HF360 have small tracking knobs with very limited fine tuning range.

It is certainly possible you have other factors contributing interference, since you are using voltage converters in a country the VCRs were not intended for. This could be causing or emphasizing any video defects. But a "herringbone patch" on BII recordings that consistently runs from top to bottom of the screen, toward the left or right side, worsening near the bottom, that reacts noticeably to tracking adjustment, is an inherent artifact of the Beta II recording format.
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post #7 of 9 Old 07-30-2013, 08:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by CitiBear View Post

This was a common issue with NTSC Betamax VCRs used in North America. It would appear regardless of the VCR mfr: I have seen this "herringbone patch" using Beta machines made by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo as well as Sony. As you have noted, the problem is obvious at the BII speed but invisible at BIII. The "herringbone patch" became less noticeable with BII recordings made on newer Betamax models released by Sony in the late 1980s, but older BII tapes made on previous Beta decks will still show a "herringbone patch" even when played on newer Sony models... But a "herringbone patch" on BII recordings that consistently runs from top to bottom of the screen, toward the left or right side, worsening near the bottom, that reacts noticeably to tracking adjustment, is an inherent artifact of the Beta II recording format.

Wow, this is really interesting information, I had not heard anything about this before.

If this was in fact a problem, I would have imagined it had been taken care of in some way, considering the reputation that Sony had (and still has) of making excellent equipment. Sounds really strange.. After all, beta was always the 'better' format, and you never heard or read any reviews indicating there was a problem with picture interference. Of course this might be due to the reviewers never using pre-recorded tapes to test with. I have personally not yet tried to make an NTSC recording on a new blank tape, to see if the problem is there as well. I will try to do this. Yet in all my years of reading and studying these formats, I have never heard anyone refer to this herringbone pattern, as I would have though this had been a major problem at the time, yet still people bought high end SuperBeta recorders and were extremely happy with them. I even have one of those late (1988 I think it was released) ED Beta machines, with s-video outputs and 500 line resolution. And the problem is exactly the same on that one also.

Either way, I would assume that 'herringbone patterns' are caused by some sort of interference in the video signal, most likely at the point where the signal is read by the video heads, since it changes according to the tracking conditions. Would it not be possible to isolate the problem somehow, and maybe make some sort of fix to the problem?

Also I am puzzled with the fact that the tracking range (in BII) is often very narrow, even on tapes that have obviously been used very little, and even on brand new just-removed-from-shrinkwrap movies. The noise that develops as one adjusts the tracking from one side to the other, always builds up from the 2 exact same spots in the picture on all my Beta recorders. Adjust the tracking knob to one side, the noise comes up from the bottom of the picture, quite sudden, so there is a point where the picture is almost 'perfect', then suddenly there is a very concentrated white noise band at the bottom, and then the hifi sound is gone. When I adjust the tracking to the other side, to where the herringbone pattern starts to disappear, ordinary picture noise develops about 2/3 down from the top, spreading up and down very slowly, gradually getting worse until the picture breaks up. Hope this makes any sence, it's hard to explain picture noise buildup without showing pictures. I will try to get some pictures of all these symptoms, as I am really interested in what people think about these issues.

The reasons I am puzzled about the tracking issue in addition to the herringbone thing, are: (note: I have no problem accepting that tracking is needed, to a certain extent)
1) In BIII (the slower speed) it is almost impossible to get a bad picture, even at the tracking extremes it looks damn near perfect. Why? In VHS it's exactly the opposite, there is often very little room for adjustment in the slower speed, but quite a lot in standard speed.
2) When I adjust tracking on VHS, I usually get noise more or less evenly distributed over the entire picture, whether I adjust the tracking to one side or the other. Why does Beta have these noise 'bands' that build up instead of evenly distributed noise? Again I am leaning towards some speed/frequency/switching issue, making the heads behave in a way they were not meant to.

Do you think the herringbone patch is recorded onto the tape, or is it something that develops in the machine itself? Would it be an idea to try and use some sort of picture processing unit, like a time base corrector or something? If it's a manufacturing fault in the recorders themselves, and the problem is not on the tape, could it be some kind of grounding problem with the head drum? Any thoughts?

Any other Beta users out there who can elaborate on this? It would really be interesting to be able to contact someone who worked at Sony at the time, maybe they would know something..
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post #8 of 9 Old 07-30-2013, 12:00 PM
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Originally Posted by jehomme View Post

If this was in fact a problem, I would have imagined it had been taken care of in some way, considering the reputation that Sony had (and still has) of making excellent equipment. Sounds really strange.. After all, beta was always the 'better' format, and you never heard or read any reviews indicating there was a problem with picture interference.

To be fair, the BII herringbone issue wasn't really considered significant back in the day, and most users never even noticed. If you were very finicky and had an excellent contrasty TV like a Trinitron, it was obviously a disappointment given the overall excellent recording quality of Beta. But most North Americans considered Trinitrons an overpriced luxury, and settled for lower-quality RCA televisions which concealed the BII herringbone stripe rather nicely (unfortunately they also concealed the superior Beta PQ, which is why the "Beta Is Better" ad campaign fell on deaf ears). I've been surprised that the herringbone stripe isn't as obvious to me when the tapes are digitized and displayed on modern large-screen LCDs: perhaps complementary issues in the digitizing process help conceal it.

I have no idea what actually causes the BII herringbone stripe. I've often thought it might have something to do with BII being exactly half the speed of BI, an uncharacteristic (for Sony) kludge reaction to VHS SP killing them at retail. If you look VERY carefully at early LP tapes recorded on early LP VHS vcrs, you will often see a similar herringbone stripe, which again may have something to do with it being a not particularly well-thought-out half-speed kludge. Remember JVC fiercely resisted LP, and Matsushita basically hacked LP in five minutes to appease RCA executives.

Quote:
Do you think the herringbone patch is recorded onto the tape, or is it something that develops in the machine itself? Would it be an idea to try and use some sort of picture processing unit, like a time base corrector or something? If it's a manufacturing fault in the recorders themselves, and the problem is not on the tape, could it be some kind of grounding problem with the head drum? Any thoughts?

Hard to say. Some of my Beta VCRs seem to have recorded the herringbone stripe on the right side, others on the left, and those tapes will show the herringbone stripe in the same place even when played on other brands of Beta VCR. I tried a TBC and it did not remove the issue. The herringbone stripe is much more obvious on old pre-recorded Beta tapes because Beta duplication was often sloppier than VHS. The studios tended to use aging Beta duplication decks, or a magnetic contact printer that wasn't as high tech perfect as it sounded. This could exaggerate tracking limitations when the tapes were played on a consumer Betamax, and as you've seen tracking adjustment is critical to minimize the BII herringbone stripe. I would imagine if the issue could be fixed, Sony would certainly have gotten rid of it early on. Since they did not, and the stripe persisted on into the BetaHiFi and SuperBeta eras, it is inherent to the BII format. If Sony could not get around it, there is likely no hack you could perform to your own Betamax vcrs at this late date.

I understand your affection for the Beta format, and agree some of the old Beta VCRs were unparalleled in terms of luxurious operational feel. But there comes a time when every technology becomes moot: with VHS mostly dead now, Beta is deader than dead. If you find the BII herringbone patch bothers you to the point you can't enjoy watching pre-recorded Beta tapes, the logical thing to do is not watch pre-recorded Beta tapes. Aside from the nostalgia kick, there's really no compelling reason to use Beta or VHS to view typical pre-recorded material anymore (esp Beta tapes which degrade with use more quickly than VHS). Get the DVD versions, and view those instead. Reserve your Betamax for viewing personally-recorded tapes of material you can't obtain otherwise, and you'll be happier. The herringbone issue is more easily minimized on home-recorded tapes by simple tracking adjustments: pre-recorded Beta tapes were never as good (often much worse).
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post #9 of 9 Old 07-31-2013, 01:45 PM
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I have personally not yet tried to make an NTSC recording on a new blank tape, to see if the problem is there as well. I will try to do this.

Will love to watch a capture of those recordings. wink.gif
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